Exciting things are happening on Baltimore's museum front. Ground was broken recently for a new addition to the City Life Museums, which will incorporate the 1869 cast-iron facade of the old Fava Fruit Co. as part of its exterior. Now, the Jewish Historical Society says it is planning to double its current museum and library space just a few blocks away.
This is good news. It means that more of local history will be preserved and exhibited.
The expansion of the City Life Museums near a future Metro station at East Baltimore Street and Fallsway will bring new strength to Jonestown, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. A similar rejuvenation should result from the Jewish Historical Society's plans to strengthen its presence near Lombard Street's Corned Beef Row, a once-bustling district which declined rapidly after the 1968 Baltimore riots.
"Before the suburbanization of the Jewish community, East Baltimore was the single most important residential and commercial area of the community," says Bernard Fishman, the historical society's director.
Although a smattering of delicatessens remain, many of the traditional businesses that made Corned Beef Row famous are gone. Tulkoff's Horseradish factory is now in Highlandtown, and many of the kosher butcher shops have disappeared altogether. Yet the few Corned Beef Row eateries -- Attman's and Lenny's above all -- remain a popular stop for tour buses from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
There is more to Corned Beef Row, however. The three main institutions are obvious: Lloyd Street Synagogue, the Jewish Historical Museum exhibit hall and B'nai Israel Congregation.
Beyond them are a number of other fascinating relics of the area's Jewish past, such as the B'rith Shalom Hall, which still has a marble foyer and crystal chandeliers; the old Hendler Ice Cream Co. building with its upstairs stage, and the old Talmud Torah and Arbeiter Ring buildings. Today, they can be seen usually only on the Jewish Historical Society's walking tours.
Major landscaping will soon change the look of Albemarle Street as part of the City Life Museum improvements. The Metro extension should have a positive impact on East Baltimore Street's commercial stretch. And the city is talking about redeveloping the public housing projects between the two museums. Things are looking up again.